OpinionUK News

LGBT pay gap demands attention

A lack of data is compounding the problem

By April, every company in the UK with more than 250 employees must have published figures for the gap in pay between male and female staff. In the US, a report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research revealed that women, on average, earn 20 per cent less than their male counterparts.

Moves are afoot on both sides of the Atlantic to replicate this attention, this time with a focus on the disparity between white staff members and their black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) colleagues. The BBC has been criticised for having no BAME people in its highest-earners.

However, while there is greater scrutiny of discrimination in the workplace with regards to sex and race, there has been very little progress on how it relates to sexual orientation and gender identity.

“There just isn’t the same pressure as there is on gender,” says Stephen Frost, founder of Frost Included, a diversity and inclusion consultancy. “Yet it is worthy of investigation. The Tim Cooks of this world are still quite rare [the chief executive of Apple came out in 2014].”

The lack of statistics or research into how much LGBT staff are paid in comparison with heterosexual colleagues is “woefully inadequate”, says Mark Runacus, president of PrideAM, an LGBT+ network for the marketing and advertising industry.

“It has only covered gender and BAME,” he says. “Typically, an HR manager will count the number of women and non-white people. There is no data on big issues like mental health, disability, social exclusion and LGBT+.”

PrideAM is working with several businesses on a report on LGBT+ issues in the workplace, with the results expected next year.

The sparse available data includes a 2014 study from IZA World of Labor, an economic research institute, which suggested that gay men earned 9 per cent less than their straight counterparts globally. By contrast, lesbians were paid 12 per cent more than straight women, the report found, although this varied widely (+20 per cent in the US, -28 per cent in Australia).

Nick Drydakis, author of the report, concluded: “Despite anti-discrimination laws in some countries, gay and lesbian employees encounter serious job-market barriers. They report more harassment and less job satisfaction than heterosexual employees.” He added that the lack of data made it harder to see if anti-discrimination laws were effective.

There is no data on big issues like mental health, disability, social exclusion and LGBT.

Any attempt to track a sexuality pay gap will always be clouded by the fact that sexual orientation can be a “hidden characteristic”, not as immediately apparent as in cases of sex or racial discrimination, says Jon Heuvel, a partner in the employment team at Shakespeare Martineau, the law firm.

“The difficulty with trying to capture data on a sexuality pay gap is how do you get the data in the first place,” says Mr Heuvel. “Unless you have a 100 per cent [response rate] it’s not accurate and you can’t force someone to tell you what their sexuality is if they don’t wish to disclose it.”

Fujitsu, the Japanese IT equipment and services company, is one of the few large corporations that asks (“requests, not requires” is the company line) employees about sexual orientation. It has set a 2020 target of having 5 per cent LGBT+ employees among its 155,000 staff worldwide.

Questions of categories hinder all attempts, says Steven Cox, who is Fujitsu’s global diversity and inclusion ambassador: “While gender is typically considered to be binary . . . sexual orientation and gender identity are not.”

Mr Drydakis said quantitative research for “other sexual-orientation classifications, including bisexual, transsexual, queer, intersexual and sexually questioning”, was “especially scarce”.

There are problems of intersectionality — the combination of categories — too. Mr Drydakis wrote in his study that the very limited data meant it was impossible to understand how factors such as “age, ethnicity, health, education, occupation [and] region” affected LGBT people’s earnings.

For example, a well-educated white gay man may face fewer obstacles than a poor black trans woman. “It is conceivable, indeed arguably likely, that the pay gap is different for different communities for different reasons,” Mr Cox adds.

The main question, however, is not how to work out a sexuality pay gap, but what such a study would achieve: meritocracy, a fair reward for achievement and greater business efficiency, says Jim Wright, a partner at Shulmans, the law firm. “Any pay system, be it a salary or bonus, that rewards on anything other than merit is inherently inefficient,” he says.

“And if you are rewarding inefficiency then you’re actually not really doing your job as an organisation.”




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